9 Feb 2024

Tāwhaki aerospace centre aims to boost Canterbury economy

8:22 pm on 9 February 2024
Tawhaki Board member David Perenara-O'Connell speaks to media at the Tawhaki National Aerospace Centre opening.

David Perenara-O'Connell says the centre's rapid completion will help retain local talent. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

The Tāwhaki National Aerospace Centre at Kaitorete Spit has officially opened, bolstered by a $5.4 million cash injection from the government.

The new aerospace centre in Canterbury's Banks Peninsula is expected to skyrocket the local economy by up to a billion dollars and halt the exodus of local talent offshore.

The site includes a 1km-long sealed runway, and hangar facilities are also in the works.

Mana whenua representatives opened Friday's launch with the eerie sound of the pūrerehua (bullroarer) and pūtūtara (shell trumpet) carrying across the newly minted runway.

The centre is on a 1000ha section of land near Lake Ellesmere, jointly owned in partnership after the Crown and local rūnanga joined forces in 2021.

Following the government's multimillion dollar commitment last October, work at the site has progressed at a rapid clip ahead of Friday's commemorations.

Tāwhaki board member David Perenara-O'Connell suggested the rapid-fire rate at which the work was completed was about retaining local people.

"The industry has been looking at opportunities offshore - [and] the likes of Australia, who are looking at infrastructure like this.

"Getting in there and getting this business case, getting the infrastructure built in three months was absolutely about retaining talent here in Aotearoa."

Kaitorete ranger Rulon Nutira during Friday's whakawatea formalities for the opening of Tāwhaki.

Rulon Nutira leads the opening formalities at Tāwhaki. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

Between November and December, US-based Wisk Aero completed world-first test flights for an uncrewed aircraft from Kaitorete.

Minister Judith Collins, who holds the government's space portfolio, beamed in with a pre-recorded message, offering her stamp of approval in the process.

"This is a very important runway...we see advanced aviation and space as being extremely important sectors in our economy.

"This particular runway is important to our infrastructure because we can't have advanced aviation and space without the right infrastructure."

Tāwhaki, who contributed $700,000 to the project, predicted the development would contribute to more than 1300 high-skilled jobs and up to $2.4 billion in economic benefits.

Those working on the project say the Kaitorete spot offers clear skies and access to a wide range of orbits from an expansive flat strip of land stretching 25km.

Perenara-O'Connell said the site "is more than just aerospace".

"Whilst we're celebrating a runway today, Tāwhaki is also out there restoring tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii) and a whole lot of endemic plants and other species here on Kaitorete.

"This is not just aerospace: Tāwhaki is about the whole of Kaitorete and looking after this wahi taonga."

Economic development agency ChristchurchNZ said the centre was expected to generate between $100 million and $1 billion to the local economy over the coming decades.

Chief executive Ali Adams said the opening was a major milestone for Christchurch's ambition to be the "flourishing centre of New Zealand's aerospace industry".

"Having a local testing, flight and launch facility will massively accelerate this fast-growing sector in Ōtautahi and Aotearoa, especially for the several local companies who aspire to reach space using horizontal take-off.

"Its proximity to a world-class city is also globally unique for offshore business attraction."

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